Exercise is just as important for kids as it is for adults, but unfortunately many children are emulating their parents and getting far less physical activity than they need to stay healthy.
Less than one-third of kids aged 6 to 17 get at least 20 minutes of vigorous exercise a day, and the 2010 Shape of the Nation Report from the American Heart Association and the National Association for Sport and Physical Education actually recommends one hour of exercise a day for Americans of all ages.
Kids are clearly falling way short of this goal. The report states:
“The reality, of course, is that children and adolescents in the United States are primarily sedentary. Most kids under age 18 spend the majority of their day sitting in classrooms, and a big part of their free time outside of school watching television, playing video games or surfing the Internet.”
Why is Physical Activity So Important for Kids?
Too much sedentary time is one of the forces driving the child obesity epidemic. About one-third of U.S. children aged 2-19 years are now overweight or obese, and childhood diabetes has increased 10-fold in the last 20 years.
If this epidemic is not reversed we will, for the first time in history, see children living shorter lives than their parents. The risks of obesity for children are really that steep. For instance:
Children who are obese are more than twice as likely to die before the age of 55 than those of a healthy weight.
Obese teenage women are more likely to die between ages 36-56 than their normal weight peers.
Women in the moderately obese category as teens elevate their risk of death in adulthood by 50 percent.
Obese teens more than double their mortality risks compared to their slimmest peers.
Research calculations indicate that by mid-century the growing risk of serious obesity-related illnesses like diabetes, heart disease and cancer could lower the current average life expectancy by as much as five years.
These are diseases that have no place in a young person’s life, and the good news is that regular exercise can seriously decrease your child’s risk.
Along with helping your child to maintain a healthy weight, regular exercise can also help your kids excel at school and, later, in the workforce.
Exercise Can Boost Your Child’s Grades
Keeping kids active is a superb way to increase learning, focus and even test results. At one school, students who took part in a dynamic gym class at the beginning of the day had reading scores that nearly doubled, while math scores increased 20-fold.
Exercise encourages your brain to work at optimum capacity by causing nerve cells to multiply, strengthening their interconnections and protecting them from damage.
Lab tests on animals have also shown that during exercise their nerve cells release proteins known as neurotrophic factors.
One in particular, called brain-derived neurotrophic factor or BDNF, triggers numerous other chemicals that promote neural health, and has a direct benefit on brain functions, including learning.